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How to rent when you are buying a home
I would appreciate some advice on renting when looking to buy a home, and to establish residency. My partner and I are considering moving to Setúbal, a suburb of Lisbon, and we are just beginning to try to understand the home buying process and especially what a reasonable timeline may be.
Bem vindo! Specifically, what advice are you looking for and how can we all help you? What are your plans?
Setúbal was high on my list when I was looking. I didn't really think of it as a suburb of Lisbon, but I guess it depends on what Setúbal - the whole district does come pretty close, if you're in Almada for example, and maybe as far as Quinta do Conde there appears to be a distinctly bedroom community thing going on. Portugal's administrative geography is a regular tiered system: there's the big city Setúbal (freguesia), its surrounding municipality Setúbal (município, concelho), and its Setúbal district, the entire peninsula. Some of the outlying freguesias will have two or more towns, like Gâmbia, Pontes & Alto da Guerra out to the east.
The home buying process is kind of different. We didn't have a real estate agent, but rather depended entirely on the seller's agent. When we bought our home in the US, we had our own agent, but she was paid from a percentage of the sale price, so to some extent she was really not ours after all; our Portuguese seller's agent on the other hand was selected by the seller but depends on his reputation to buyers, and in fact has been extremely generous with his time after the sale. At the critical legal juncture, there will be a Cartórial Notarial, another party who will make sure the contract is executed correctly. I did retain a lawyer; as it turned out he mostly got in the way, but had there been a real problem he could have been invaluable, and at worst it wasn't very expensive.
You should become acquainted with the process in terms of things like the Contrato de Promessa Compra e Venda, but also to recognize that not all of this stuff is strictly required. As for elapsed time ... we saw the property in June, and signed off in September, which I think is relatively fast, but it could have gone faster if we'd been in Portugal all the while. In general, if you can manage to establish yourself as a resident first, of course the whole home buying process goes smoother. I think we did OK, but we were stuck in the US for months because of visa limitations.
I did a lot of my shopping from my computer in the US. It's a terrible way to do it for obvious reasons, and made worse by the general reluctance of Portuguese real estate agents to specify the location of a property. That's an important feature, as I probably don't need to explain, so I spent a lot of time with google maps aerial imagery tracking these houses down.
I'm sure there are lots of bad experiences out there, particularly in more popular ex-pat destinations, but of course the same is true everywhere. If you have doubts about whether a house is sound or has real problems, it's possible to hire someone to look at it - but as far as I know, not many buyers actually do that, neither Portuguese nor foreign buyers, despite the somewhat unreliable Portuguese building practices.